No Pain, No Brain
At one time, people tuned in to see whether Evel Knievel would clear the fountains at Caesar's Palace on a speeding motorcycle or shatter every bone in his body trying. And even though it was much more compelling to imagine Knievel bouncing along the pavement like a lifeless rag doll rather than hitting his mark safely, there was at least the possibility that he'd come through the stunt in one piece, kiss the girl and give the paramedics the night off.
Yet for the cast members of Jackass: The Movie -- an extension of the wildly popular MTV series that debuted in October 2000 and was canceled last summer during a shitstorm of protests from parents' groups and even Congress -- pain and failure are all but guaranteed, even before a stunt is attempted.
Picture a bicycle-riding daredevil pedaling hard toward a ramp in order to clear a bed of cactus plants. Roped at the waist to a nearby couch, this doomed but willing slapdick knows exactly what's in store for him moments after takeoff: He'll be jerked backward violently -- like a toy dog on a taut leash -- and fall ass first into a thicket of long, sharp needles. Then there's the thrill-seeker who jumps off a mini-trampoline into the whirling blades of a ceiling fan. Any guess as to what happens to him? Another dumbass excels at snorting a line of wasabe (which immediately makes him vomit, but he does it again to be sure), while his comrade enters the record book of brainlessness by pole-vaulting into a tree. There are also a midget and a really fat guy on hand -- but they mostly just run around in thong underwear or panda suits to the confusion of stunned and unsuspecting onlookers.
Steve-O, born Stephen Gilchrist Glover, is the Jackass member referred to among his peers as "the painless one." In his mind, this growing cult of stoopidity has unlimited potential. Along with the show's creator, Johnny Knoxville (who sustained a concussion sparring with heavyweight boxer Butterbean in a department store), Steve-O has been dreaming up ingeniously inane ways to humiliate not only himself, but Ryan Dunn, Bam Margera, Preston Lacy, Jason "Wee-Man" Acuna and an assortment of rattlepates to the tune of millions. Ferociously targeted toward young teens, the vastly successful empire of kamikaze comedy combines extreme sports (several crew members are professional skateboarders) with Candid Camera, gross-out antics and sadomasochistic camaraderie.
An MTV spinoff program, dubbed Alpha Male, is currently in the development stages; it teams Steve-O with naked "party man" Chris Pontius in a plotless nature show. But even Steve-O, a graduate of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College who passed on a life under the big top in 1997, knows the hardcore audience expects more. (Law enforcement has come to expect more, as well: Steve-O faces charges of indecency and battery in Louisiana after he stapled his scrotum to his thigh and scuffled with bodyguards there.)
In the fans' eyes, after all, it's not fun and games until someone gets hurt; it's fun and games precisely because someone gets hurt. And even though the televised series and film (both produced by Spike Jonez, director of Being John Malkovich) run repeated disclaimers that urge viewers not to imitate the stunts, plenty of adolescent males across this great nation have ignored the warnings and paid dearly -- one recently with his life. So remember, kids: Setting yourself on fire is a bad idea. Always leave it to a professional.
Westword: How have you guys gone about converting Jackass into a stage show?
Steve-O: Oh, it's real easy. We just took all of our frustrations with the censorship we've been subjected to and just decided to go from town to town, performing all those stunts that weren't allowed on TV. Everybody [at MTV] got, like, intimidated by fears of liability. What was happening throughout the course of the TV show is that they were gradually more and more kind of cracking down, you know. By the time it got to the point we weren't even allowed to puke on TV anymore, we just quit.
That was the final straw, huh?
Yeah. They really did do everything in their power to just tighten up standards and make it harder and harder for our best footage to clear. And, you know, they're so afraid of the liability involved that they refused to promote us whatsoever. They refused to ever play any reruns and moved us to a later [time] slot. And we just kind of felt that they were treating us like MTV's redheaded stepchild. And we decided that it really wasn't worth it to go on killing ourselves, you know, for all this footage, if no one was ever gonna see it. We just told them, you know, 'Screw you, we quit.' And they found that we were too profitable of a group of people to really kind of close the book on. So the only real way to continue is to make it rated R and charge a lot more money for it.
But these live shows are all-ages, aren't they?
Sometimes. But rarely. Most the time it's eighteen and up. But I feel confident in accommodating any crowd.
Are your crowds mostly bored, white suburban kids?
We really don't draw the most responsible demographic. A lot of times, we don't even draw the most polite people. I'd say for the most part that everybody knows how to party and have a good time.
Do kids still send you guys videotapes of themselves doing crazy shit?
Kids wouldn't know where to send videotapes to, because Jackass is by far a separate entity from MTV. And the kids that would have the tenacity to figure out where to send the footage to aren't really dumb enough to generate the kind of footage that would get anywhere, anyway. I don't know. I'm not looking to share the spotlight, so I just want all of the copycat kids to just quit it.
How did you feel about Stephen Rauen dying last week in your home town [Albuquerque], trying to imitate a Jackass stunt?
Yeah, I heard something about it. But, um, I don't know enough to really have a comment. And, once again, my only real comment is that I'm not looking to share the spotlight.
That was the first official Jackass-related death, though, wasn't it?
I really don't know; I really don't know. I do my best to not pay attention to those sorts of things.
Do you get parents coming out and protesting shows who say that you're being irresponsible and promoting self-abuse?
By now, I think that if parents are protesting, they should be protesting that they're bad parents. I don't know. Maybe if they can get six and a half million people to tune into what they have to say, maybe someone will listen. But within the boundaries of the law, I enjoy being as inappropriate as possible, whether people like it or not. And if the joy doesn't reach them, then they really weren't my target audience.
When you first started doing this, were you motivated by sheer boredom?
No. I was always kind of interested in some sort of reward at the end of the day. But I figured it might be just getting a girl out of her panties.
You must get your share of hotties, Steve-O.
Yeah, it's all right.
Are you guys ever concerned about not being able to top yourselves stunt after stunt?
It's not really topping ourselves, because we just try to come up with different stuff, you know. It doesn't have to be bigger or crazier or more injurious. It just has to be entirely different and fresh and new. So, I'd say I'll go on forever. I can already tell from most of the stuff I'm filming that it's becoming more about telling a story than actually doing a stunt. I'm not worried about keeping the fires burning for a long, long time. I'm already kind of working on the other side of the camera as well. So even if I stop hurting myself for a living, I'll still be directly involved in the media.
Maybe not getting into the circus was the best thing to ever happen to you.
Yeah! Absolutely. Even though I wound up in a shitty flea-market circus. But I only stayed as long as I needed to.
What's Ringling Brothers Clown College like?
More exclusive and harder to get into than Harvard. Totally. They shut it down now, but I was present at one of a hundred auditions, and my application was one of some 2,000. And only 33 people made it in.
Are you applying some things you learned in clown college to what you're doing now?
Absolutely. Like reacting in real time, you know, to live performance situations is critical. And just looking at the big picture, really. And overall, once again, making people happy.
Is getting health insurance a problem for you?
I personally haven't had health insurance for over four years. But the money that I've saved in not purchasing insurance is less than the money I wound up having to spend on hospital bills on my own.
How often do you need to go to a hospital?
This last time, I snapped my collarbone. That turned out to be a pretty cheap bone to break, because there's nothing much you can actually do about it. So that wasn't too rough. The time before that, I had to get my lips sewn back together, and that only cost me five hundred bucks. I've only had to pay for two trips to the hospital by myself. I get insured to film for other people, but now I'm kind of working for myself. And I'm pretty confident in being able to afford some explosive injuries.
What kind of injuries do you have at the moment?
I'm just riddled with staples. I'm all banged up. But it's worth it, man. It's definitely worth it, just because it brings joy to others. There's something about humans that they just have to turn their heads to look at an accident, and I'm more than happy to provide a deliberate accident for them to look at. I do physical comedy, you know. But even when my stunts are at their most life-threatening, they're still intended to be humorous. So I'm not a liar.
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